The Battle of Geddes Ridge
Two U-M doctors set out to build a dream house. It's been a nightmare for all involved.
From the January, 2018 issue
"Raising the Flag"
In September, a colorful banner appeared on the side of a trophy home on Ann Arbor's east side. It bore a stylized image of a bird and the words "GoosiLeaks / The Story of Belief & Betrayal."
A photo of the banner was published online at goosileaks.blogspot.com with the headline "Raising the Flag." Other posts soon welcomed readers who'd seen ads for the blog in the Tuscola County Advertiser, the Cyprus Mail, and the Observer.
Michigan's Thumb, an island in the Mediterranean, and Ann Arbor are connected through the blog's creators, U-M physicians Brad Foerster and Myria Petrou. Though it says it's "about our life experiences in Ann Arbor," posts on the couple and their two young children are rare. GoosiLeaks is mostly devoted to the many disputes swirling around the couple's dream house off Geddes Rd. With dueling lawsuits, a criminal investigation, family conflicts, and allegations of wrongful death, it's a tale so byzantine that, in an email posted on the blog, a friend of the couple compares it to a Greek tragedy--or a soap opera.
In their blog and in court, Foerster and Petrou claim that the builder of their dream home, Christopher Laycock, committed bank fraud. Laycock says the couple defrauded him. He's suing to collect liens for $274,000 in unpaid work.
The couple also contend that their constitutional rights were violated when a local magistrate froze their bank accounts after Petrou's mother went to the Ann Arbor Police Department for help locating hundreds of thousands of dollars that disappeared from an investment account. According to Petrou and Foerster, Petrou's mother wanted the money taken from the account belonging to her and her husband; they say she went to the police "to try to force [Petrou] back into a relationship with her."
Petrou and Foerster have sued the Bank of Ann Arbor in an unsuccessful attempt to halt foreclosure on a $1.5 million loan. And they've filed professional
complaints against the architects who designed their home, the accountant who audited Laycock's liens, Laycock's attorney, and an attorney who represented them against Laycock.
They've also filed lawsuits in state and federal courts against Laycock, architect Theresa Angelini, the City of Ann Arbor, two AAPD detectives, and Petrou's mother, Maria Petrou. The suits allege that some or all of the defendants violated the couple's rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments, defamed them, and caused Petrou's miscarriage.
"I've never seen anyone litigate with as much malice as they have," says veteran attorney Marian Faupel--herself the target of one of the professional complaints. In court Faupel fired back, blaming Laycock's wife's suicide on stress his business suffered from the dispute with the doctors over payment for his construction work.
The Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission ruled against Foerster and Petrou's complaint about Faupel, who retired from the case last summer. She says her small firm was simply overwhelmed. "I can't do five lawsuits in three different jurisdictions," she says. "Litigation was coming out of the sky."
Laycock's current attorney, Jeremy Kennedy, declined to comment for this article, as did city officials and many individuals targeted in the couple's lawsuits and complaints. "Everybody feels sort of terrorized," Faupel opines.
Foerster and Petrou did not respond to interview requests; nor did their attorneys. But in court filings, they've called Laycock's lawsuit "punitive, retaliatory and extortionate." One of their attorneys offered $80,000 to settle the liens, less than one-third of the total. When Faupel proposed mediation, another attorney emailed that he'd recommend it only if the project's architects, Theresa and Brad Angelini, "bring their checkbook or deed to their home with surrender of their licenses. Laycock's license is at risk as well. You and Laycock wanted a fight to the death and you should be overjoyed at your accomplishment."
Today, the huge Prairie-style dream house crouches on a dusty, weed-choked lot with no lawn. The lot next door, originally planned as a homesite for Petrou's parents, stands empty.
The dream house
Foerster went to high school in Caro on his way to medical school at the U-M. Petrou, a native of Cyprus, arrived a few years later for postgraduate training in radiology. They married in 2004, and both are now on the faculty of the U-M Department of Radiology. Foerster, forty-seven, is an associate professor earning $160,000 a year and also works at the VA Ann Arbor Health System, where he earned $255,487 in the fiscal year ending September 2016. Petrou, forty-two, is a U-M assistant professor, making $200,000.
They used to live in a two-story colonial in a secluded subdivision off Chalmers Dr. near Arborland. But about six years ago they set out to build something grander--and a lot more expensive.
Their 10,000-square-foot dream house would have four bedrooms, a three-car garage, and a rooftop deck. An elevator. Eight bathrooms. And a staircase cantilevered so that the treads seemed to be floating on air.
On Geddes Ridge, an exclusive private lane perched above the Huron River near Gallup Park, the couple bought two adjoining lots for $256,000 apiece--one for their dream house and one for Maria and Petros Petrou, retired high school principals who'd joined their daughter and grandchildren in Ann Arbor.
In 2012 Foerster and Petrou hired the Angelinis to design both homes--but according to Laycock's lawsuit, they also consulted an architect in Greece throughout the construction. Their first builder, the lawsuit says, estimated the work could be done for less than $125 per square foot; Laycock said a realistic price would have been $250-$300. Unsurprisingly, the project sank midstream.
According to Faupel the house stood half-finished, with no windows and a temporary roof, for more than a year before the couple hired Laycock, a builder of custom homes based in Saline. The two sides came to disagree strongly on the terms of their contract and the amount in dispute. But according to Laycock's lawsuit, he found the house with a basement filled with debris and animals and the walls three inches out of plumb.
The couple simplified the plan somewhat, scrapping the rooftop deck. But according to Laycock's complaint they failed to make a promised initial payment and didn't keep up with mounting costs as they added upgrades like white oak flooring and a glass staircase railing.
Renee Laycock took her own life July 7, 2015. Once an accountant for Faupel's law firm, she also kept the books for her husband's construction business. In his lawsuit, Laycock writes that his wife "died on the day a significant payment from Foerster and Petrou was due." According to Faupel, the money would have covered $200,000 owed to suppliers and subcontractors. Faupel says her former employee had been struggling with mental health issues and that the shock of learning the payment was not coming "helped push Renee over the top."
The following month, the doctors got a $1.5 million construction loan from the Bank of Ann Arbor, mortgaging their colonial on Brian Ct. as part of the deal. Though $300,000 went to pay off an existing loan from Old National Bank, according to Laycock's complaint the couple repeatedly assured him the new bank loan gave them the funds needed to finish the work. But by mid-2016, even as the dream house was nearing completion, Laycock and the doctors were deeply at odds over payments and the contract terms.
According to Laycock's complaint, even after the family moved into the home in November 2016 with a temporary certificate of occupancy, he continued sending in subcontractors for final touches. At least one of them, glass supplier Glasco Corp., ended up suing him, though unsuccessfully. According to Faupel, other subcontractors have never been paid.
A family torn apart
Myria Petrou was once so close to her parents that she planned a home for them next door. Now they haven't talked in months and are legal adversaries. A blog post reveals that Fr. Nicolaos Kotsis, the priest at St. Nicolas Greek Orthodox Church, was enlisted as an intermediary in a failed attempt to get the couple's children to see their grandfather on his birthday in October. (Kotsis did not return calls.)
When Petrou's parents arrived in Ann Arbor, they signed a power of attorney giving their daughter significant control over their life savings of nearly $1 million. In her counter-complaint to her daughter's civil suit, Maria Petrou contends that she and her husband (who has since been diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson's) were misled into signing documents they didn't understand.
According to an affidavit by AAPD detective Brad Rougeau, in November 2016 Myria Petrou emptied her parents' Merrill Lynch investment account, transferring nearly $234,000 to her own PNC account. In her counter-complaint, Maria Petrou charges that her daughter and son-in-law "unlawfully" took her and her husband's funds "for their own use including additions to an expensive new residence."
In the blog, the couple write that Myria Petrou took the money with her mother's permission. But Maria Petrou's attorney, Jim Reach, says his client wasn't told about the withdrawal. At around the same time, he says, Petrou broke off all communication with her parents.
Reach says that Maria Petrou went to the AAPD for help in determining what happened to her money but never asked for criminal charges against the couple. After interviewing her, however, Rougeau initiated an embezzlement investigation.
GoosiLeaks tells a very different tale. According to the blog, Petrou had a miscarriage on February 16. She called her mother to tell her but "received no sympathy and no acknowledgement for her loss." Instead, the couple write, "Maria was yelling about her accounts, that Maria had 'no choice' but to go to the police to 'get to Myria.'"
In their state and federal lawsuits, the couple blames the miscarriage on stress from Rougeau's investigation. By initiating two searches and seizures of their bank assets, they charge, he acted "either intentionally to harm or with gross reckless disregard for ... whether damage or harm would result to Myria Petrou or her unborn child."
The first seizure, authorized by district court magistrate Tamara Garwood based on Rougeau's affidavit, occurred February 9; the second took place March 13, almost four weeks after the miscarriage. The wrongful death claim has since been dismissed in state court, but not in the federal case, which has moved more slowly.
Mother and daughter remain estranged. In a December blog post, Petrou reported receiving a voicemail from her mother saying that her father's health was failing "and all he wants is to see his grandkids." Petrou responded by blaming her mother's "false testimony" for keeping the children from their grandparents--and directing her lawyer to stop her mother from contacting her.
"Standing up for Civil Rights"
A Thanksgiving Day post on GoosiLeaks places the couple's legal battles in the context of historic crusades for social justice. They write that they are "standing up for Civil Rights and providing a small but we think important example to society around us." While activists such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. "faced far worse violations of their Civil Rights," they acknowledge, "their prior struggles have allowed us to have a voice in these challenges today."
Foerster and Petrou have written to many U.S. senators and local doctors and complained to governor Rick Snyder and attorney general Bill Schuette about "police corruption" and a "conspiracy" against them. They've made similar charges to Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor, city councilmembers, and police chief Jim Baird. They told the FBI that they believe Laycock committed bank fraud. In addition to Faupel and the Angelinis, they filed formal complaints against their original attorney in the construction case, Ed Hood, and accountant Russ Agosta, who at Hood's request did an audit of the construction liens. They tried to get one local court to take over their case from another. To date, none of those efforts have succeeded.
Foerster and Petrou have posted many legal documents from the case on GoosiLeaks. The blog also features more than two dozen recordings of conversations with their enemies and allies. ("Virtually any contact with these two people is taped," says an exasperated attorney for one of their adversaries.) In one recording, Foerster asks a fellow U-M radiologist, Aine Kelly, why Maria Petrou might be "making up these false allegations against us? ... What do you think her objective is?"
Kelly answers: "To bring pain to all of us."
"What do you think the truth is?" Foerster persists.
"We're the truth," Kelly replies.
In another recorded call, Foerster tells his mother, Shirley Foerster, that the couple "had no choice" but to sue Petrou's mother. He also complains that his mother-in-law's proposed witness list includes his children. Yet the couple themselves have repeatedly involved the children in their disputes. In a video posted on the blog, Foerster asks their daughter Maria--named for her grandmother--why she thinks "your Grandma says that you might not belong to us?"
"Cause she wants to take me to California," the youngster replies.
"Why would she want to do that?" Foerster continues.
"Because she wants you and mommy to be sad."
Maria Petrou and her husband still live in Ann Arbor. The blog offers no explanation of why or how she might want to take the children to somewhere in California.
Then there's a remarkable November post that includes an affidavit from Petrou that she's never abused her children nor had extramarital sex. The Observer could find no record of anyone accusing Petrou of child abuse--unless you count a sarcastic remark in a 2016 email from Laycock. (After assuring the couple that the home's heating and cooling system posed no threat, he made a snarky joke about calling Child Protective Services if they were still worried.) And what the blog calls a "fabricated sex scandal" seems to be a response to a cryptic comment by Rougeau, the AAPD detective, about the couple's "complicated relationship" with Aine Kelly's husband, Paul Cronin.
A generous colleague
Cronin--yet another U-M radiologist--has loaned Foerster and Petrou at least $150,000 during the house construction. In a deposition on June 20, 2017, Cronin said he provided $80,000 and later $50,000 more, simply because the couple told him they were short on cash--and that he since has paid at least another $20,000 in attorney fees to lawyer Cyril Hall, who was jointly representing them and him.
Cronin and Kelly, both natives of Ireland, are longtime friends with Foerster and Petrou. They have children of similar ages and have vacationed together. Cronin joined the couple in court in April 2017--"I went as moral support for my friends," he said at his deposition-- and acknowledged paying a retainer to Hall.
Though Cronin's initial loan was in August 2016, Faupel notes in the deposition that the promissory note was not notarized until three days after the April 2017 court date. The loan carries no interest and is not repayable until December 2027. "I trust my friends to pay me back," Cronin testified in the deposition.
If the story weren't already tangled enough, the night before the April court date Laycock reportedly got a series of anonymous phone calls. Faupel, his attorney at the time, says she got one too. During the deposition in June, Faupel played recordings of a man, who claimed to be a work colleague and called himself "Nick," claiming Foerster was extorting money from Cronin. In subsequent emails to Faupel, "Nick" claimed Cronin was drinking a lot, arguing so much that neighbors called police, and selling properties in Ireland to fund his friends' legal battles. In keeping with the soap opera nature of the story, "Nick" claimed to Faupel another, more intimate reason that Cronin was entangled. The exact accusation is not public, but the doctors alluded to it in the "fabricated sex scandal" post.
So far, attempts to track down "Nick" have failed. In the "fabricated sex scandal" post, the doctors include the email Nick used in communications with Faupel. No one answered the Observer's messages to that address.
The doctors' legal crusades have so far made little headway. When they tried to delay the foreclosure sales for their two houses, judge Archie Brown not only ruled against them but ordered them to pay the bank's attorney, LeRoy Asher, more than $11,000. He has also ruled that Laycock's liens are valid. In the doctors' state lawsuit, the couple have dropped all defendants except Laycock and Maria Petrou. In their federal suit, they've dropped the Angelinis as defendants, and the city has moved to be dismissed as well.
As the Observer went to press, however, the Battle of Geddes Ridge was still raging. The AAPD's report on the embezzlement investigation was in the hands of the county prosecutor. "Once the investigation has been reviewed, we will know if criminal charges will be filed," emails AAPD public information officer Matt Lige. "I have no time line as to when we will hear from the prosecutor's office."
Meanwhile, the legal bills continue to mount. Faupel says her firm alone has spent at least $200,000 and that Asher has budgeted $250,000 to defend the Bank of Ann Arbor in court. (Asher didn't return phone calls.)
The costly court battles may be starting to weigh on the doctors--and their attorneys. Cyril Hall, who's handling both their state and federal lawsuits, asked the state court to let him withdraw after Petrou emailed the court in September saying she and her husband wanted to represent themselves. Hall later withdrew his motion, but in November attorneys Michael Reynolds and Mark Evans, who were defending the couple against Laycock's original suit, made a similar request. They cited a breakdown in communication--and also a lack of payment. In a December order, Judge Brown approved their request.
In December, the GoosiLeaks banner was still hanging on the house on Geddes Ridge. It may not be there much longer, however. Both that home and their old home on Brian Ct. went into foreclosure this past summer. If the doctors don't redeem them by February 3, the Bank of Ann Arbor will own them.
Foerster and Petrou would need to come up with more than $1 million to retain their 10,000-square-foot trophy home. But they could redeem Brian Ct. for less than $100,000--and according to a December GoosiLeaks post, that process has already started. After all the financial and emotional pain surrounding their dream house, the family may end up back where they started six years ago.
BATTLING THE U
While fighting to hold onto their dream house, Bradley Foerster and Myria Petrou have also been involved in controversy at Michigan Medicine.
Foerster and a radiology department colleague, Robert Welsh, are co-principal investigators on a National Institutes of Health research grant. In August 2014, Duaa Altaee was hired as their research coordinator. In the spring of 2015, Altaee filed a charge of sexual harassment and retaliation with the U-M Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) against Welsh and the department. Foerster filed a related charge, saying that he was a witness to the alleged harassment and that Welsh had retaliated against him, too.
Foerster and Petrou also accuse Welsh of defrauding the NIH. Last summer, Petrou emailed the agency to accuse Welsh of receiving money for work he hadn't performed. Welsh left for the University of Utah in 2016; neither he nor Altaee could be reached for comment. Mary Masson of Michigan Medicine's office of communication won't say why Welsh left but does say he still officially has a job at U-M. Citing institutional privacy policies, university officials decline to comment on the harassment complaint.
Masson says the U-M general counsel's office took the fraud charge "very seriously. We've conducted an extensive review but have not found anything to substantiate any of the allegations." Foerster, however, continues to insist that fraud was committed--in a July mass email, he called it a "whistleblower case."
In one of the story's many bizarre twists, the couple write in their blog that Altaee will be "the primary witness in our conspiracy case in the federal court." They don't explain how a U-M research coordinator might have learned about alleged machinations between their builder, architect, bank, family members, and the Ann Arbor police. But Altaee does have at least one connection to the dream house: after Foerster and Petrou moved out of their former home behind Arborland, Altaee and her husband moved in.
from Calls & Letters, February 2018
To the Observer:
A sidebar to your article about doctors Brad Foerster and Myria Petrou ("The Battle of Geddes Ridge," January) repeats allegations made by Dr. Brad Foerster against my client, an eminent physicist, Dr. Robert Welsh. Dr. Foerster has made these deeply professionally damaging claims against his former friend, Dr. Welsh, in multiple venues and forums, in addition to his law suits against dozens of others, from the City of Ann Arbor to his own mother in law. Because Dr. Foerster's position afforded him an air of respectability, the University of Michigan has taken his allegations seriously, and carried out repeated investigations of Dr. Welsh.
In each case, Dr. Welsh has cooperated and has been completely exonerated; I have provided your paper with evidence of the same. Dr. Welsh has behaved honorably and properly throughout his career, without exception.
Nevertheless, your story could be read to suggest that Dr. Welsh left Michigan under some cloud of unresolved sex harassment allegations. That notion is absolutely false. Dr. Welsh began discussions to move to the University of Utah prior to Dr. Foerster's complaint against Dr. Welsh, and the allegations were dismissed before Dr. Welsh finalized the negotiation and accepted the position and decided to move. There was no cloud. Rather, Dr. Welsh left for the University of Utah because of its opportunities for his career, indeed with a more favorable compensation package compared to the University of Michigan.
Dr. Welsh has no further comment on this sad tale since the repeated exonerations and the details you have reported speak for themselves.
Salvatore Prescott & Porter
Prescott provided documentation from the U-M general counsel's office confirming that it had investigated Foerster's charges and found them to be unsubstantiated.
Since the article was published, Foerster and Petrou have filed a new federal lawsuit against forty-seven individual and corporate defendants, including the Observer and writer Michael Betzold. We're charged with engaging in a criminal conspiracy under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the couple's eviction from their trophy home this month--and more than $100 million in damages.
[Originally published in January, 2018.]
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